Although a neighbor of Ethiopia, the birth place of coffee, coffee was not planted in Kenya for almost 300 years after coffee was first cultivated for sale. The plant varieties finally planted in Kenya differed to those of Ethiopia having circumnavigated the globe before returning to Africa, mutating to create the unique profiles associated with the coffee growing regions of Kenya, centered around the rich soils of Mt. Kenya. The first plants were introduced by Scottish and French missionaries, transplanting varieties from the island of Bourbon (now Reunión) to Kenya and Tanzania, and from Mocha in Yemen. The plants from these regions continue to influence the dynamic quality of the coffees produced in Kenya today.
Already with a significant and established tea industry, having been colonized and purposefully developed by the British, Kenya became a force in the international coffee markets. During the 1930s an auction system was introduced, see below, with the intent to democratize the market for farmers. Local famers acquired small holdings through the redistribution of property from the large British-owned and government owned plantations after Kenya gained its independence from Britain in the1960s, with coffee assuming ever increasing importance to the Kenyan economy.
The vast majority of coffee farms in the region are small plots owned by Kenyans growing as few as 150 trees. Cherries are harvested and taken to centrally located processing mills where they are weighed, sorted and combined to create lots suitable for export. Privately owned estates still exist but account for less than 15% of coffee production. The average estate grows around 10,000 trees. Altitudes in Kenya coffee-growing regions range from 1,400 meters to more than 2,000 meters.
THE AUCTION & DIRECT SALES
A majority of the coffee produced in Kenya has been sold through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange since its introduction in the 1930s. Estates and cooperatives work with a marketing agent responsible for promoting the coffee at the auctions and selling to the highest bidder, charging a fee of between 1.5% to 3%.
In addition to the auction system, coffee producers and exporters can negotiate a price directly and agree a deal before or during harvest.
Kenya coffees are renowned for their acidity, we are looking for more complex cups exhibit black currant, grapefruit or kaffir lime together with tamarind, tomato, or tropical fruits. The varieties SL-28 and SL-34 are juicy and dynamic, while French Mission has a more creamy and citric profile.
Regional variations exist when it comes to cup characteristics due to the size and topography of the country and its various growing regions. Coffee from Nyeri has more fructose sugar, strong tart acids, and a juicy feel in the mouth. Embu produces a more complex cup, with darker fruit flavors, more browned sugars, and a greater overall balance. Kirinyaga exhibits floral and delicate cups.
The typical process for a wash station in Kenya takes the cherries from the farmer, weighs them and puts them in a hopper, mixing them with the rest of the cherries collected that day. The cherries are depulped using either a single disc depulper, directing all of the coffee into a single fermentation tank, or using a pre-grader/multi-disc depulper, which pre-sorts the coffee by density before and after depulping and deposits the coffee into multiple water tanks for fermentation based on grade.
Once fermentation is complete and mucilage removed, coffee is pre-dried by laying it in thin layers in full sunlight for about six hours. After this, the beans are moved to raised beds where they are dried for seven to ten days in thicker layers.
Bungoma, Embu, Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Machakos, Mt. Elgon, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri, Taita Taveta, Thika, Tran-Nzoia
SL-28, SL-34, French Mission Bourbon, Ruiru 11, Batian, K7
Washed (typically includes an additional soak lasting 12 - 72 hours)
January – December (main)
April – July (fly)